Do I remember how to do this?

It was early evening in the mountains, and we’d stopped at a lookout to take in the view. I could hear water rushing somewhere below us, but I couldn’t see it. Oh well, I thought, this is Shenandoah, there will be plenty of waterfalls. As we stretched our legs walking the length of the lookout, a trail appeared to our left. Without much thought, Sadie and I took it. It headed downhill at an angle we NEVER see on our flat beach/wetland trails. Soon, cold water was pouring down the rocks, and I felt a little thrill as it flowed refreshingly into my my new Keens. I looked back at my dog, wondering if she would be intimidated by the slope and the water. She just panted at me, paws already wet and muddy, tongue lolling as if to say “why did you stop?”

Wow, I thought, as we splashed downhill, I’d forgotten this feeling. We were less than 100 yards from the road, and I was already grinning. A few feet later, we ran into another trail, and turned left, heading toward the rushing water sounds. Turns out there was indeed a waterfall:

A glance at a sign post soon revealed that this waterfall was on the Appalachian Trail, which runs right through Shenandoah National Park. You’re never very far from the AT when you drive along Skyline Drive, but I didn’t really figure that out until later when I looked at a map. In that moment, discovering that iconic trail felt like magic.

More than 8 months earlier, I didn’t know that a hike up to Elephant Rock, just outside of Salt Lake City, would be my last real hike. But the coronavirus has changed everything; it’s grounded all normal travel plans, and kept me on flat terrain even as my feet and soul have itched for mountains.

So, this little weekend away was full of re-learning, of discovering how to do things I’d forgotten how to do, like packing a backpack or climbing an actual hill. Had it really been more than 1/2 a year since I’d done that? Yep. Time has both crawled and flown by these last months.

How long had it been since I’d talked to someone at the front desk of a hotel/motel? Or since I’d slept in a bed that was not my own? Thanks to a Disney family trip in March, that memory was fresher, but we didn’t have masks back then.

Did I remember how to use my camera? Not really…my sunset photos from this trip are kind of a mess. But I got slowly more comfortable as the weekend progressed; I remembered what f stops and shutter speed meant. 🙂 .

But by far the best bit of remembering had nothing to do with the changes wrought by the virus.

Almost 10 years ago, I realized I wanted to travel more, and that I was hugely intimidated at the idea of doing it alone. I did it, because I wanted to prove that I could, but the first time, I really didn’t enjoy myself all that much. I was too self conscious, too in my head, too concerned with how other might see me in my aloneness and think me lacking somehow. The last time Sadie and I took a trip together, everything had felt wrong; I hadn’t been able to find it in myself to truly enjoy being out there with just my dog and me.

I have wonderful people in my life, and in those 10 years, I haven’t had to travel alone much, for which I’m profoundly grateful. But recently, while slowly becoming more comfortable in my own skin, I’d begun to wonder if I’d been spoiled by all the grand adventures I’d taken with friends and family. After all, those folks might not always be there to adventure with; had I lost the ability to have fun on my own? As a solo gal living in the age of a pandemic, I’d damn well better be able to make my own fun, right?

I didn’t realize it until it was over, but this Shenandoah weekend was a test to see if remembered how to adventure by myself. I am happy to report that I passed with flying colors.

Sadie and I tramped all over the park, and I never once worried that people were looking at me, wondering what was so wrong with me that I was out there on my own. We hiked scrambled down to waterfalls and up to the top of the highest peak in the park (up the easy trail – she is a senior dog, after all) without ever feeling self conscious. I was able to thoroughly soak up views like this:

Later that night, I sat cozy in my cabin, a breeze coming through the open door, the sun lighting up the trees outside, and wondered if I should pack up the dog and go back out to try to take pictures of the sunset. My attempts from the previous night’s sunset hadn’t turned out well. But I was happy and content to be exactly where I was, and so I snuggled under the blankets, Sadie snoring next to me, and let myself get lost in my Outlander re-read. I’d had a good day, and there was nothing more to need.

What a delightful place to find oneself, when the last months have left me feeling so needy for something, anything, to break up the days.

The next morning, we drove more than 60 miles down Skyline Drive at 35 mph, just to try to catch some views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I embraced my inner teenage boy by stopping to snicker and take a picture of the view from Naked Creek Overlook:

Bacon Hollow viewpoint offered the views I was hoping for, even if there was no bacon to be had:

By the time we reached the end of Skyline Drive, reality was beginning to creep back in. Hailstorms, pounding rain, and the never-ending traffic of I64 did the rest, and by the time I was back home, the trip felt like it had already been over for days.

But happily, this little blog exists to help me call back the memories, and I can still feel the residual effects of those hills and views and waterfalls in my legs and lungs; they haven’t gone away completely. I don’t know when I’ll get to go back, or who with, but it’s a good thing to remember what it feels like to be deep in the woods, or perched on a rock with a valley spread below you. Together or alone, there’s nothing quite like it.

PS: Some things I have not remembered how to do, apparently. Like taking selfies with my dog. What in the world was happening here?

Is there something between epic and domestic?

Facebook memories are usually wonderful. I often surprise myself with how funny I was X years ago that one day, and I love looking back at trip photos that pop up. It’s also interesting to see the trends of life and how they change. For example, according to Facebook, I used to be a lot more obsessed with my camera.

4 years ago, I slipped on a rock on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, and dropped my camera into an ocean puddle. Along with my dignity, I broke the camera body, and waited with breath held for the new one to arrive. In those days, I had a serious thing for my Canon; being without it felt wrong.

These days, it’s rare that I pick it up, and I’ve been wondering why. Today I figured out part of it.

Each year, as a Christmas gift, I make a calendar of my favorite photos of the previous year. There are a few friends and family who have no choice but to receive it; some are even kind enough to put it up on display. Sometimes I forget what photo is next, like I did this month. But this month is a good one. One of my best, I think. Here it is:

As a side note, this photo proves that photos aren’t a reflection of reality. This looks peaceful, doesn’t it? It was anything but. This was taken on the Valley of the Five Lakes hike in Jasper National Park in Canada, August 2019. Shawn and I got a later start than we should have, and as a result, there were probably 3-4 other parties of people at this little dock/lake. Children were running about yelling, as they do, and grown ups were jostling for the selfie spot on a dock out of frame. But I saw this boat, and the marvelous light, and somehow folded myself into some tree roots to get this picture.

Isn’t it lovely? Look at the oars, at the 2nd boat hiding behind the main one, the crazy clear water, the shadows on the bow.

When I see this photo today, it feels like a lifetime ago. My camera did come out quite a few times since then: for my last elevation hikes, way back in October in Utah, for Christmas, for my nephew’s birthday. But never with that deep-seated need that I used to feel, that itch to have “my real camera” in my hands, in case I would turn a corner and see something that just needed to be photographed. Even though my iPhone often takes better pictures, there is something about the weight of the Canon that makes me feel close to being an artist.

Last week, for the first time in months, while out for a hike in the woods with my niece, I found I missed my camera. Perhaps it’s spring and the way it makes the trees glow neon, or perhaps it’s the joy I got watching my niece shed some of her timidity and gallop fearlessly along trails that I love.

So for this week’s family hike, I made sure I had my Canon with me. I fell back to my trusty 50mm prime lens because I can always trust it to deliver, especially when my skills are rusty. And I caught a couple of photos that made my heart swell in that old familiar way.

As I pulled them down from my camera, I found others, from my nephew’s February birthday, that also made me smile:

As I moved through these, editing and cropping, I realized what’s changed. In my photo-obsessed years, there were things I wanted to capture that weren’t an epic adventure, or a family gathering. There were local hikes, new corners of Boston or the beachfront to explore, a sense of marvel and wonder and looking forward that made heading out with my camera to photograph my favorite pond for the 20th time seem exciting. These were moments between epic and domestic.

These days, there’s not much going on in the between.

There are no epic adventures to be had, and there won’t be any time soon. Family gatherings are on hold, too. So, we exist in this place of sameness, where it seems like nothing changes, and where all forward motion has stopped.

Normally, at this point in a blog post, I’d turn to how I’m going to solve the problem or issue I’m arguing with myself about, but not today. See, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to find ways to excite myself enough to take my camera along the next time I walk my dog through our complex, for what feels like the 1000th time this week. I’m not convinced there’s anything new to find in this little bubble of domesticity that we live in. But I do hope that the good, solid feel of my camera in my hands was the start of a new trend. Time will tell. And goodness knows we’ve got time on our hands these days.

Here are a few of the pictures I snapped on our family hike – a nice moment of the between. I am grateful to live where we can get outside in a responsible way and give these rugrats the chance to stretch their legs and play in the sand. And, it was nice to be able to capture some of it.

Seeking shooting stars

Yesterday should have been my first day on a vacation in Yosemite National Park, a place I’ve dreamed of seeing for years. No need to dwell on the details, but Covid-19 torpedoed that trip a few months back. I’ve been trying to keep a good attitude about the whole thing, because really, it’s not a big deal given all that everyone is facing these days.

Then I found out that the Lyrid meteor shower would peak in the early hours of 4/22. If the Yosemite trip had happened as planned, I’d have been in Yosemite Valley at 11pm at the peak. I checked the weather, and it looked clear there. Yeah, that stung.

So last night, I made a plan. I set an alarm and tried to think of a way to walk to the beach at 2am without waking up jittery neighbors. I obsessively checked the weather to see if the clouds would clear.

They did, and so, at 2:07 am, my confused dog looking on, I headed outside and jumped into the car. A few minutes later I parked in a residential area and scurried my way across the street onto the beach access boardwalk.

My plan was to flop on the sand and gaze at some stars in the hopes of seeing some fiery rocks hurling through space. But the wind was howling, loud enough that I could hear the grains of sand pelting my jacket, so I retreated to a bench up on the boardwalk.

I saw one, possibly two shooting stars/meteors.

Then, I got back in the car and headed back toward home. I stopped off at the parking lot of the nearby state park, and looked up long enough to see one shooting star/meteor.

Then I got home, and the dog wanted to go out, so I stood in my parking lot while she did her business, and I saw one more.

That was it.

It was such a colossal bust of an effort that all I can do is laugh. I know better than to try to capture even an iota of the magic that would have been stargazing in Yosemite Valley, but for some reason, likely related to cabin fever, I needed to do it. A few observations:

  1. No one, and I mean NO ONE, other than me, was out trying to see the shower.
  2. The Virginia coast is wicked light polluted. Even with no moon, there was a ton of light on the beach. I blame this for my lack of sightings.
  3. It was extremely uncomfortable to be out at 2am. I wasn’t afraid of animals or the dark. I was worried about people. The residents who would see me in my hoodie and assume I was up to no good. The police who would see me drive into the closed state park parking lot and yell at me. The lone car in that same lot, the window glowing occasionally as the occupant looked at his/her phone.

In the end, I’m glad I saw a few shooting stars/meteors. I’ve decided, in my sentimental way, that the first two I saw were for me and my friend who was supposed to be in Yosemite with me. He’s a doctor dealing with the epidemic first-hand, so I made a wish for him on the first one I saw. On the 2nd, I made a wish for me. And on the third, which I saw in my home parking lot, while my dog sniffed nearby, was for the future in all it’s prosaic reality. I don’t know when I’ll get to Yosemite, or when I’ll see my friend again, but it’s not likely to be anytime soon. So I wished for collective patience and compassion for all of us.

In truth, I didn’t wish those things then. I’ve decided retroactively to assign some meaning to that last meteor/star. Because at the time, I just wanted to go back to bed.

New shoes…and nowhere to go

I love hiking boots and shoes. I love them almost as much as all my running friends love their running shoes, and that’s saying something. I love the solid feeling of them, how they connect my feet to the earth. Well, they’re meant to do exactly that, of course, but I’m talking more in the spiritual sense. 😉 I love where they’ve taken me, and how they’ve helped me scramble up rocks that made me scared. I love how they give balance to the silhouette of my less-than-skinny legs, and how they look cool with both jeans and hiking pants. At least, by my minimal fashion standards, they do.

So it’s with a little sadness that I announce it’s time to say adieu to my beloved Merrell MQM Gore Tex Flex beauties. I got them in late 2018 as part of some crazy good sale, and I had no idea what I was getting when I bought them. Turns out I wore them so much I literally wore the soles off of them. See example A, on the left.

Hmmm, late 2018 – that wasn’t a great time for me. I was sick, exhausted and likely suffering from burnout. On a trip to the Smoky Mountains a few months earlier, I’d gotten great joy out of throwing out a pair of miserably uncomfortable waterproof hiking shoes, and needed new ones. I got sucked into an instagram ad (yes, I know, I’m weak) and soon these arrived.

In the year that would follow, they would take me all over the trails in and around Virginia Beach, to Shenandoah National Park, and Arches National Park, and Canyonlands National Park, and Death Valley National Park, and up various trails in Utah’s Wasatch mountain range. They’d come with me to Arkansas, and travel all over the Canadian Rockies, from Canmore to Banff to Jasper and to some alpine meadow more than 8,000 feet above sea level. They’d even get a taste of my old stomping grounds in the Blue Hills Reservation on a brief jaunt back to Boston, and they’d collect sand from the Outer Banks in North Carolina along with the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic coastline back home. Given all the puddles and ocean they’ve splashed through, It’s a wonder they don’t stink to high heaven. (I just checked and they are a little smelly, but not too bad. I think.)

I entertained the idea of trying to figure out how many miles I trekked in these, but I gave up quickly, because that’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing this because I’m grateful for the changes the last year has brought to my health. These shoes gave me a confident spring in my step, one that I badly needed in those early months, to climb out of the hole I’d dug for myself.

So, I have new boots/shoes now, also bought on sale from Merrell. The jury is out on if they will be as awesome as their predecessors, and the world looks very different for them. I was hoping to break them in at Shenandoah, to take them on my much-anticipated first visit to Yosemite, and bring them back to Utah this spring…but the coronavirus seems to have other plans. We’ll have to make do with the trails of our nearby parks (provided they stay open) and the beaches (same concern).

I decided to write this little post because over the past week or so, there have been little dart points of grief as I realized I wouldn’t be having my far-flung adventures in the months to come. I held on to the reservations in Yosemite in the hope for a miracle, but even that mighty park has been closed. Today, I cancelled the rental car and deleted the trip from my travel ap, and…blergh…it’s just a drag.

So, my new shoes are not starting out with a grand itinerary ahead of them. In truth, we don’t know how much longer our local trails will even be open, given the uptick in use since every other leisure activity has been shut down. If that happens, I’ll have to wear down those weird new treads on cement.

Look, I know that there are terrible things happening right now, far, far worse than me not being able to hop on a plane and go hiking. But as we navigate through this new reality, it’s important to note and mourn, just a little, the things we were looking forward to. Yes, we will adapt and make the best of our changed world. But I don’t think it’s selfish to simply acknowledge that there are things we are giving up, and that we will miss them.

Regardless, I remain grateful for my legs and the strength that they’ve developed over the last year. They will keep powering me forward, whatever that looks like, and in whatever boots they happen to be wearing. I remain grateful for my health, and for the comfortable chair that I sit in as I write this.

Be safe and well everyone. Hope to see you on the trails sometime soon. From 6 feet away, of course.

Throwback travel diary: Maligne Lake

It’s official. I don’t know what to say or do amid the coronavirus crisis that we are all living through right now. In reality, my life has hardly changed. I’ve always worked from home. I’m socially distanced by my nature, only closing that distance when I choose to, not because my life dictates it.

But I have this fist around my chest. It only lets go when I sleep – I think – and manifests in what feels like a permanent crinkle of my forehead. I don’t worry about getting sick, really, or running out of food. I worry about what’s to come for my friends in the health care field, or if I carried the virus around with me, shedding it, while traveling recently. I worry about my parents and their friends, who are all at increased risk if they catch this. It’s likely many of them will. And I feel for the parents trying to teach their kids, and the teachers who can’t anymore, and all the people whose livelihoods went poof when museums and theaters and stores and restaurants closed or reduced hours.

All of those things are problems I can’t control. So I compensate by cleaning things (my dresser in my bedroom finally got the dusting I’ve been meaning to do for months now), trying not to eat all my feelings, and fretting. And looking for ways to use what I am good at – words and pictures – to help somehow.

Which is why I found myself idly flipping through travel photos the other night. I know that the best adventure is supposed to be the next one, but it’s not likely I’ll be adventuring anywhere new anytime soon. So I allow those old trip photos to give me comfort and bring back memories of vistas that took my breath away, in the best sense of the word.

This one, though, confounded me. It’s from a trip to the Banff/Jasper area in the Canadian Rockies in Summer 2019. I kept a journal on that trip for the first time, but I started midway through, and left this stop out when I went back and wrote about the early days, for some odd reason. So my memories of the when and why we were there took some resurrecting.

First though, just sit with this one for a bit with me, won’t you? Imagine you’ve been hiking for 13 miles and your legs are tired, and you’re about to sit/collapse down on a gently floating dock as the light fades toward sunset, behind you. It’s been a pleasantly warm day for the Rockies, so your face feels sun/wind burned, but just a little bit, not too bad. Your skin is dusty and sweat-dried; you can’t wait to rinse it. Your hair needs washing and you’re hungry, verging on hangry. If we’re being totally honest, you’ve got some blisters and chafing going on, because your flatlander body isn’t used to hiking 13+ miles in a day. You’ve spent the day goggling at mountain lakes, emerald reflections of trees and flowers and distant peaks, but somehow despite everything, you still have enough wonder left in your heart to goggle at this view.

Now, come back to reality and take a look at the photo itself with me. Enjoy the way the light cuts down the middle of the green slope, and the mountains in the distance are almost dwarfed by the clouds. How the shadows are almost annoying in that they hide some of the detail. Note the specks from my dirty lens, that I could have fixed in Photoshop but I got lazy. From this photo, you can’t really know if there’s a boat over there on the right hand side, near the trees, can you? (There was. Sometimes photos show and hide things; it’s part of why I love them)

After looking at my diary and other photos, I came to realize that this moment at Maligne Lake was really short. It was the evening of our first full day in the Rockies and I’m pretty sure it came about after one of those “so what do we do now?” moments, when it’s too early for dinner and too late for anything structured. I think we just got in the car and drove, looking for bears along the way. There was so much more we could have seen and done at this lake, but we’d missed the window, so we just took in the view, took our pictures, turned around, and went back to (fantastic) showers and a yummy dinner.

I guess I share this because this image made me gasp a little, smile a lot, and ponder that even moments that we forget about can be magical when you look back at them through the lenses of memory, nostalgia, and a little bit of longing.

It makes me wonder what we will remember when we look back on these crazy days. I hope we are able to pick out some moments of good amid all the bad.

Be well, everyone, and keep washing those hands. And for goodness sake, STAY HOME!

PS: After I sat down, I turned and got this photo. Just more proof that you should always sit down, because you never know how your view might change. 🙂